When Letruska earned her first career Grade 1 victory, she defeated the mare who has had the distaff ranks in a stranglehold for the majority of her career.
When the daughter of Super Saver found herself on the receiving end of top-level accolades at the conclusion of the $500,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1), it was affirmation that she herself was now the one her rivals will have to unseat in order to claim the divisional throne.
The ongoing ascent of St. George Stable’s Letruska reached another stratosphere on a sunny afternoon at Belmont Park when the 5-year-old mare led every step of the 1 1/16-miles Ogden Phipps en route to a 2 ¾-length victory over runner-up Bonny South.
Of the eight top-level races on Saturday’s Belmont Park card – headlined by the Belmont Stakes (G1) – the Ogden Phipps was considered pound-for-pound the best contest on the day as Letruska was set to be joined in the starting gate by three other Grade 1 winners. While champion Swiss Skydiver and 2020 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) runner-up Valiance both had to scratch due to elevated temperatures, the field of five left still included 2020 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Shedaresthedevil – who narrowly defeated Letruska when the two met in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes on March 13.
Since tasting defeat that day, Letruska has been a mission that has left some of the sport’s best fillies and mares in her wake. In the April 17 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), she defeated two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl by a nose, becoming just the second horse to ever beat the chestnut champion to the wire first. On Saturday, she doubled down on just how formidable her form has become when she got the jump on Shedaresthedevil out of the gate and never gave the advantage back, cutting fractions of :23.49 and :46.76 en route to guaranteeing her fees-paid spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff as the Phipps is a “Win and You’re In” qualifying event for the race at Del Mar on Nov. 6.
“This is back-to-back Grade 1 wins. She showed her potential,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said of his star disaffer. “This is a speed horse that can run long distances. Today, she confirmed what we saw in the Apple Blossom. She’s progressed with age and taking the blinkers off. She ran like a big horse.”
Before she became a horse that Brad Cox – trainer of Monomoy Girl, Shedaresthedevil, and Bonny South – would see in his nightmares, Letruska was an obvious talent, but one who needed help relaxing and not cooking herself on the front end. Since taking the blinkers off her following Letruska’s fourth-place run in the Beldame Stakes last October, Gutierrez has seen the bay mare morph into her best self, earning victories in the Rampart Stakes (G3) and Houston Ladies Classic Stakes (G3) to go along with her two Grade 1 triumphs.
“When she would run on the lead, she never saw the other horses. She has improved so much more,” Gutierrez said. “She has this class to her. She really likes to run. Now we need to focus on the Breeders’ Cup with the form that we have. These races are really tough. We’ll check how she does. She’s a very sound filly and I hope she continues like this.”
Sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the Ogden Phipps field, Letruska held a half-length advantage over Shedaresthedevil rating in second as they reached the half-mile mark. By the time they approached the final turn, the pacesetter had opened up daylight on her challengers and had jockey Jose Ortiz – who picked up the mount when his brother and fellow rider, Irad, was injured in a spill on June 3 – looking back to see if anyone had anything for him in the lane.
“She was breaking a little bit slow, but she broke good today,” Jose Ortiz said. “I was able to put her on the lead and make the other horses chase me. Florent (Geroux, aboard Shedaresthedevil), if he wanted to beat me, he had to run with me. She couldn’t keep up with me by the three-eighths pole. When I looked back and saw her three lengths behind me, I was very happy.
“It was very impressive. She’s a very nice mare.”
Letruska was still on cruise control as she hit the wire in 1:41.25 over a track rated fast. Graded stakes winner Bonny South ran on to get second with stablemate Shedaresthedevil another length back in third.
“I went out there and got my butt kicked—simple as that,” Geroux said. “That filly (Letruska) was superior. I was right beside her and at the half-mile, my filly couldn’t keep up with her. The day we were able to beat her (in the Azeri), she broke a step slow and maybe we got lucky. It could be the one turn. Maybe next time around two turns, she’ll be able to go with her.”
Bred in Kentucky, Letruska made her first six career starts in Mexico before coming to the states at the end of 2019. She improves her career mark to 14 wins from 19 starts with $1,432,319 in earnings, and rewarded her backers on Saturday with $4.40.